Gioryanni joined Nisa as our dispatcher nearly a year ago. She keeps our inventory in order, prepares our customers' orders for delivery, and welcomes our workshop visitors with care and enthusiasm. For World Refugee Day, Gioryanni has written an open letter to a number of Ministers about her journey and the importance of family reunification visas in Aotearoa New Zealand.
My name is Gioryanni. I'm from Colombia, and left my home country in 2017 as a refugee. I fled to Ecuador, where I stayed for two years. Although we were in danger in Colombia, Ecuador wasn’t much better. My family would receive threats, and we weren’t legally able to work, which then meant we could be exploited by employers.
I was so happy to hear from the UNHCR that I had a place in New Zealand. I arrived here in September 2018 with my mum, my dad, and two of my sisters. Our first experience was at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre. They taught us a bit of English (I didn’t speak any before I arrived, so this was very helpful), and they taught us about money and about life in New Zealand. My family and I were given a home in Churton Park in Wellington, and we settled in the capital city in November 2018.
When I arrived in Wellington, I found it a difficult city to explore. We didn’t know how to take a bus, or how to get around the place. Our first month was particularly hard because we didn’t speak English. Even trips to the supermarket were a real challenge - we couldn’t read English, which meant we couldn’t read the signs on the aisles. We just had to look at the packaging on the shelves one by one to try to work out what each item was.
I have come a long way since then. I have been focussing on learning English, and I have just completed an English Proficiency Programme at Victoria University of Wellington. I want to study at Otago University next year, because my dream is to be a dentist.
While I’ve been studying, I’ve also been working at Nisa. Nisa is a social enterprise and underwear label that employs women from refugee and migrant backgrounds. I’ve found working at Nisa a wonderful opportunity because I feel more integrated in New Zealand society, and it has helped me to not feel lonely. I made friends with my workmates, and I also chat to customers when they come into the Nisa shop, which is great for practising my English.
This integration process in a new community, speaking a new language, and learning a new culture, has been so hard for me. I think about this as other refugees face this situation as well. One of the hardest things is being separated from family. My sister and my brother are stuck in Ecuador, and are desperate to leave. There is often not enough money to properly feed my sister’s baby, and they are not allowed to work over there. We are so afraid and worried for them.
Many other refugees in New Zealand face the same situation. We dream of being reunited, and we will not be at peace until we are together again. My mother has had migraines since we arrived in New Zealand, and she cries a lot. She wants to see her son and her daughter, and have them close to her and safe. I send off any spare money to them, as they don’t have an income themselves.
We do not qualify for Tier 1 family reunification, and Tier 2 only opens up every 5 years or so, and so we know our prospects are low. In the last three years, more than 2000 invitations to apply for the visa have been offered, but only 439 visas have been issued. We have not even been able to secure an invitation to apply. My family would not qualify for work visas, especially with the new rules. People might think that because we have some of our family with us, that should be enough. But it’s not - my family is more than just my mum, my dad, and my two sisters. It is my uncles, my aunts, my sister and brother in Ecuador, and my sister’s baby.
This is similar for many refugees in New Zealand. We believe that families should be together, and we ask you to fight for family reunification on our behalf. We are doing everything we can to rebuild our lives in New Zealand and be good New Zealand citizens, but until our family is whole again we will always feel great sadness.
We want our families to enjoy this beautiful and safe country with us. That is the dream for refugees that have fled their countries, and it is the dream for me and my family.
I know that the government announced the number of family reunification places would increase proportionately with the increase in the refugee quota from 300 to 600 each year. But at the moment the family reunification category is on hold. This World Refugee Day I would like to see family reunification at the centre of our concerns and for this visa category to reopen.